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The three synchronous text-based products tested in this study offer the typical assortment of educationally useful tools, including: text-based chat communications; direct text messaging; private messaging; the ability to create chat rooms for multi-way conferencing; identification of participants; status indicators; alerts upon receiving new messages; an option to include or block users; automatic acknowledgement when users log on/ off; and cut and paste text methods.
AT&T Anywhere, Sonork, and Yahoo Messenger each require a software download, and are installed as client software.
The added audio and video features of Yahoo Messenger were not examined, and their availability was not allowed to influence the team’s overall ratings of the three products’ general IM capabilities.
1) AT&T Anywhere (version 3.0.0.0512) is an efficient synchronous text-based product.
Yahoo Messenger was judged to be the most effective of the three products for use by distance education (DE) teachers and students, being compatible with most common operating systems and accommodating up to 50 chat room participants.
Yahoo Messenger also possesses integrated audio and video capabilities.
AT&T Anywhere is an efficient product, which supports Windows-based operating systems only.
Parachat (Basic version) is a basic, browser accessed chat board without instant messaging (IM) capabilities.
Parachat lacks many educationally useful features found in the other two products (e.g., start-up options; status indicators; user profiles; the option to accept/ ignore messages from users not on the user’s contact list; and the monitoring of other chat rooms).
3) Sonork is a messaging product that is evolving rapidly, for which reason it is one of the first in this series of evaluation studies to be reviewed a second time.
Sonork is designed for IM communication within workgroups in private and secure Intranet networks, as well as across the Internet.
The chat administrator’s options for customising the chat area are primarily limited to modifying its colour schemes.
The basic version’s key benefit is the ease with which Web developers can add one or more basic chat rooms to their sites at no cost.